If you’re a book critic and you work at Kirkus Reviews, it’s holidayland around here all the time, with galleys of new books we’re eager to read arriving many times over every day. That doesn’t mean that we shun the books that start arriving around this time of the year that have far fewer words in them than we’re used to reading. We’ve selected a vibrant crop of art, photography, and cookbooks we think might make perfect gifts this year. Happy Holidays and happy reading!

 

Holiday Cookies Holiday Cookies: Showstopping Recipes to Sweeten the Season

By Elisabet der Nerderlanden; Ten Speed; $20.00

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With 50 recipes ranging from classic gingerbread to the more advanced South American Alfajores, Holiday Cookies is certainly comprehensive (one section includes recipes from around the world, to boot). Some of the recipes are kid-friendly (Bejeweled Chocolate Cookies, Red-and-White Meringue Kisses), and the author’s tips and resources sections are thoughtful and quite helpful. Perhaps best of all are the 75 beautiful photos that help when a novice comes across the Austrian Linzer Augen recipe, for example. It’s hard to go wrong with Holiday Cookies.

 

Country House The Country House Library

By Mark Purcell

Yale Univ. Press; $55.00

 

The Country House Library is full of rich, lavish photos of both ornate and simple libraries in Irish and English country houses. Purcell’s expertise is vast: he makes forays even into ancient Roman libraries and speculates about how wealthy medieval book owners moved their books with them given that they moved often. Purcell’s extensive text may be too esoteric for some readers, but anyone interested in libraries and books will treasure this elegant book.

 

Mod NY Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip

Edited by Donald Albrecht & Phyllis Magidson

Monacelli Press; $45.00

 

Vogue called the iconoclastic fashion of New York in the ’60s the “New Nonchalance,” but this fun book reveals how calculating prominent designers of the time were being by rejecting previous decades’ designs. Witness the splashy pony-print coat Donald Brooks designed or the trippy mohair coat Bill Blass created in 1967. With insightful chapters about cultural change in the ’60s (such as “Fashion and Consciousness: The Grandassa Models and the ‘Black Is Beautiful’ Movement”). A fascinating look at a crucial shift in American fashion.

 

Six Seasons Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables

By Joshua McFadden with Barbara Holmberg

Artisan; $35.00

 

McFadden has been praised as a “vegetable whisperer” who is single-handedly revitalizing vegetarian dishes. He’s had a lot of help along the way, though (he trained in some of America’s best restaurants and spent two years on a farm in Maine). This substantial, beautiful cookbook is color-coded by season, so you can easily turn to Roasted and Smashed Beets with Spiced Green Sauce (fall); Rutabaga with Maple Syrup, Black Pepper, and Rosemary (winter); or Celery, Sausage, Provolone, Olives, and Pickled Peppers (early summer). (Some of the recipes contain meat.) There are 225 recipes in this vibrant cookbook, all worth a little of your time.

 

Mountain Ranch Mountain Ranch

By Michael Crouser

Univ. of Texas Press; $40.00

 

The way of life photographer Crouser portrays in these arresting photos is so remote and so nostalgia-inducing it’s a marvel it exists at all. Crouser traveled to northwest Colorado to document ranching life: the relationships between cowboys and the ranches’ animals and the relationships between humans and rugged, stubborn Colorado nature. His photos are intimate and unflinching. Crouser spent a decade taking these black-and-white images, intrigued, according to the publisher, “not by the ways their lives are changing but by the way they have stayed the same.” He is “most interested in the traditional elements of these traditional lives…what they call ‘cowboying.’ ”

 

In the Garden of my Dreams In the Garden of My Dreams: The Art of Nathalie Lété

By Nathalie Lété

Artisan; $35.00

 

Who needs Prozac if you have In the Garden of My Dreams? Lété’s bright, folk-art–like paintings of animals, children, flowers, and much more are quite the antidote for the winter blues. You may have seen Lété’s artwork even if you don’t know her name: her work can be found at Anthropologie and in textiles for Issey Miyake, and her accessories are sold in high-end boutique stores. For the person in your life who loves things vibrant and charming with a side of jarring.

 

Color The Secret Lives of Colors

By Kassia St. Clair

Penguin Books; $20.00

 

St. Clair is obsessed with color and we ought to thank her for it. In what other book will you find the following sentence (in the chapter on the color scarlet): “Although [scarlet] has long been prized as a color for the prestigious and powerful, it has, from the beginning, always been a victim of unintended meanings” (e.g., its name didn’t actually refer to a color but to a kind of “particularly admired woolen cloth”). Seventy-five shades are covered in this little book; if you’re more interested in the history and interpretation of cochineal than cerulean, for example, skip the cerulean pages. An endlessly fascinating book.

 

Japanese Garden Notes Japanese Garden Notes: A Visual Guide to Elements and Design

By Marc Peter Keane

Stone Bridge Press; $59.95

 

This inviting book’s price and level of expertise make it seem as if it’s only for those already initiated into the art of Japanese gardens, but it’s a peaceful, revealing read for novices too. Keane is an American garden designer who spent 18 years in Kyoto, creating gardens for individuals, companies, and temples. Taking broad, usually philosophical ideas—“simple earth creates solidity and beauty” or “everything of the whole is expressed in the edge”—Keane elaborates in paragraphs that give advice and explain the crisp photos throughout the book. If you can’t create a Japanese garden but love the look of them, this is the book for you (and it’s also the book for you if you are creating a Japanese garden).

 

Meehan Meehan’s Bartender Manual

By Jim Meehan

Ten Speed; $40.00

 

Mixologist Meehan has been described as a “cocktail warrior” whose past stints attest to his knowledge: he’s bartended at Pegu Club and Gramercy Tavern, both in New York City, and is also the author of The PDT Cocktail Book. His new book gets deep into the history of 100 cocktails, the logic behind why he crafts them as he does, and the “hacks” if you’re perhaps not as exacting as Meehan in the assembly of your hooch. Readers who simply want to make a good drink might skip the detailed histories of various liquors but will definitely appreciate the fact that Meehan explicitly spells out which brands to use to create the best cocktails (according to Meehan, the best Hemingway daiquiri is made not just with any white rum, but with 2.5 ounces of Bacardi Heritage white rum).

 

Galiano John Galliano: Unseen

By Robert Fairier

Yale Univ. Press; $60.00

 

Fairier was American Vogue’s backstage photographer for more than a decade. “A Galliano show means oversized, ‘make mine a whopper’ portions of fashion,” Fairier explains in the book. “It means movement, energy, music, colour, anticipation, frenzy, drama.” We’ll say! To read this book from start to finish is to enter an alternate universe: oversized, electric, a little demented, and unabashedly showy. This book, like Fairier’s previous Alexander McQueen: Unseen, is nirvana for fashionistas.

 

New Wine  Rules The New Wine Rules: A Genuinely Helpful Guide to Everything You Need to Know

By Jon Bonné

Ten Speed; $14.99

 

Bonné is the senior contributing editor at Punch and was the chief wine critic for the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly a decade. His handy new myth-busting guidebook is perfect for those of us who are a little intimidated by the officiousness of the wine world. In 89 brief rules, Bonné gives straightforward advice (Rule No. 76: “there’s no formula to finding the best value on a [wine] list”) and takes a little glee in setting the record straight (Rule No. 53: “you’ll never need more than two types of wineglass, three at most”). Even the wine expert can benefit from this honest, refreshing book.

 

This Land This Land: An American Portrait

By Jack Spencer

Univ. of Texas Press; $45.00

 

After 9/11, noted photographer Spencer set out to capture America at that moment; that moment lasted for 13 years, and Spencer clocked some 80,000 miles on his odometer in the bargain. To say that Spencer’s photos of American landscapes are “painterly” might make them sound studied or labored when it’s their otherworldly nature that’s remarkable. A simple clearing in the woods in Tennessee looks like a portal to an alternate universe in his depiction; the yellow Badlands of South Dakota look hazy and dusty in Spencer’s photos, not the stark portrayal they usually inspire. An inspiring book for reconnecting with our lost American landscapes.

 

A Man & His Watch A Man & His Watch: Iconic Watches and Stories from the Men Who Wore Them

By Matt Hranek

Artisan; $35.00

 

Hranek, the men’s style editor at Condé Nast Traveler, is fascinated by the emotional connections between men and their watches. This elegant book celebrates the milestones in men’s lives that expensive watches commemorate. The most famous watch in this book is undoubtedly the Rolex Daytona given to racing aficionado Paul Newman by his wife Joanne Woodward. “Drive slowly—Joanne,” states the inscription on the back of the watch. Hranek interviews some celebrities about their watches (hip-hop artist Nas wears a Patek Philippe Nautilus) and tells the stories of other famous watches: the Omega President John F. Kennedy wore to his inauguration and the “Buzz Saw” Rolex from the James Bond flick Live and Let Die. This book is admittedly for a specialist reader, but the stories Hranek uncovers here are alluring and memorable.

 

Women Artists Women Artists in Paris: 1850-1900

By Laurence Madeline

Yale Univ. Press; $65.00

It’s strange to think that although Paris in the time period covered in this stunning book was a hotbed of art creation, women weren’t exactly welcomed as painters then. In fact, an art writer named Eugène Münz wrote in 1873 that women simply didn’t “possess the energy of inventiveness” required to depict the subjects of big, grand historical paintings. This book shows how wrong he was, giving pride of place to neglected women artists of this period.

 

Adams Eddie Adams: Bigger than the Frame

By Eddie Adams

Univ. of Texas Press; $60.00

Adams, who won the Pulitzer for spot news photography in 1968 for Saigon Execution, his famous image of the street shooting of a Viet Cong officer, won more than 500 awards during his career. This mammoth collection reveals Adams’ admirable range: photos of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles are notable, but so are his depictions of war and famine. They all feel visceral; Adams knows how to make you look and feel what his subjects feel.